The Top 10 Films of 2015
It was a great year for film as long as you were up for some digging. Luckily, Cambridge is blessed with with such art house and repertory theaters as the Kendall Square Cinema, Brattle Theater and Harvard Film Archive, where there is a range of films to choose from. This year also saw the return of greats Steven Spielberg, George Miller and Charlie Kaufman, as well as phenomenal breakouts such as László Nemes (“Son of Saul”), Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”), Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and Deniz Gamze Ergüven (“Mustang”).
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” may have stormed the box office, but 2015 was quietly the year film focused on the stories of women, with such strong entries as “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “Suffragette,” “Girlhood,” “Advantageous,” “Mistress America,” “The Second Mother,” “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” even “Mad Max: Fury Road” (a surprise with strong feminist themes) and “Respire.”
It also marked some major breakouts for Tom Hardy and Alicia Vikander, both starring in three wide-ranging feature films.
Here is Cambridge Day’s Top 10 Films for 2015 compiled by film editor Tom Meek and writer Allyson Johnson.
“The Look of Silence.” Joshua Oppenheimer’s haunting follow-on to “The Act of Killing,” about the systematic purging of dissidents and outsiders by over-empowered militias in Indonesia in the 1960s, is heartbreaking and more intimate, as it follows a reflective optician who tends to the eyes of some of the men who executed his older brother. The context, the bewildering deference and the reckoning is at once a stab in the heart and universally human.
“Son of Saul.” A Holocaust movie with a different spin: A prisoner in Auschwitz, charged with burning the corpses of his own people, becomes obsessed with a proper burial for his son even in the light of a planned uprising to which he is the linchpin. The power of grief and war horrors is overpowering. Stunningly shot and hugely ambitious, especially when you consider it’s a first-time effort.
“Room.” Not just a fictional rendering of the ordeal Elizabeth Smart endured – being kidnapped and held hostage for years, including the birth of a child – but also the painful reentry back into society. Brie Larson gives a complicated and nuanced performance as the mom who can’t always hold it together. Jacob Tremblay, as her 5-year-old son, casts sparks of wonderment and knowing horror when their captor comes to visit.
“Amy.” A short, meteoric life in full, from happy childhood to international stardom and the painful fall triggered by celebrity, drugs and destructive self-indulgence. The talent, the waste and the bright moments of Amy Winehouse’s life shine through in palpable, complicated shards.
“Brooklyn.” An ode to classic filmmaking, “Brooklyn” tells the story of an Irish immigrant who finds home in the heart of an Italian boy. Colorful and gorgeously shot, the film is an old-school romance with the universal themes of a coming-of-age story, with a star-making turn at the center by the quietly riveting Saoirse Ronan and the sensitive Emory Cohen.
“Mad Max: Fury Road.” Reinvigorating what it means to be a blockbuster, with practical stunts that far exceed our expectations even with CGI-heavy films, George Miller’s return to the bleak, apocalyptic world of Mad Max was met with celebration from fans and critics alike. With a new heroine in Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and visuals that melted minds into putty, the film isn’t just great for its sensory overload atmosphere, but for the simple story it tells about women’s liberation.
“Mustang.” In this feminist first feature by director Deniz Gamze Ergüven about young women whose spirits will never break, girls are given an agency of body and mind. Shot with loving warmth in which five sisters operate as if they possess a shared brain and one heart, the film encapsulates the resilience of the girls. Its virtues range from the powerful, pint-sized performances to Warren Ellis’ haunting score and captivating cinematography that never forgets the beauty surrounding the sisters, even if those around try to bar them from it all.
“Spotlight.” A true ensemble piece, “Spotlight” makes investigative journalism thrilling in a way that hasn’t been the case since “All the President’s Men,” targeting real-life events that changed the way people looked at the Catholic church. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams all do reliably solid work as the journalists who forgo everything to make sure they get the story right, and Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) makes a wonderful return to form after the all-too recent stumble in “The Cobbler.”
“Ex Machina.” Scribe Alex Garland (“28 Days Later” and “Never Let Me Go”) gets behind the lens for this intriguing game of cat and mouse involving artificial intelligence and comely droids. Not all is as it appears. Oscar Isaac is compelling and menacing as the eccentric creator, and Alicia Vikander continues her breakout year with a rapturous and inviting performance as the pouty, human-aping machine at the center of the intrigue.
“Carol.” Atmospheric in every sense of the word and like an old photograph brought to vibrant life, Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is a subtly beautiful, totally immersive experience. As a viewer we’re sucked into this world and the longing between the two leads. Rooney Mara’s stilted passion and Cate Blanchett’s old-school elegance make for one of the most romantic films of 2015, where every longing gaze, every tentative touch, is shot with a lens that electrifies as much as the two actresses’ chemistry.
Films also in contention for the year’s best: “’71,” “99 Homes,” “Advantageous,” “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “In Jackson Heights,” “Mistress America,” “The Clouds of Sils Maria” and “The Revenant.”